Purple Ink


When fortune — or in my case, fortune cookie — speaks, I surely listen.

So, here is some purple ink. I hope it brings us all luck.

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Adrian Frutiger, Type Designer

Adrian Frutiger died recently at the age of 87.  Frutiger, from Switzerland, was a great designer of modern typefaces.  His fonts are known for their clarity and legibility: many of them were used in signage.

Frutiger didn’t just create typefaces; he thought deeply about them and was able to articulate his design principles as beautifully and clearly as he crafted his type.

He believed that a typeface should not draw attention to itself as a stand-alone work of art, but should be seen as a tool to best convey the underlying information.

“Type must be open and clear! It must be adapted to our lives. Type is the clothing a word wears, so it must be subordinate to the content.”

“The whole point with type is for you not to be aware it is there.”



To achieve these goals, he focused on his types’ proportions and on perfecting not only the lines of the letters but also the negative space — the spaces inside and around individual letters.

“Typography must be as beautiful as a forest – not like the concrete deserts of suburbia. A forest is not a single complex – there are distances between the trees which provide space to breathe and live.”

Among his most famous typefaces are Frutiger, illustrated first above, and Univers, second.  Both are used for signs in many public spaces — including the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, for Frutiger, and BART, the San Francisco Bay Area rapid transit system, for Univers.

Other notable Frutiger typefaces include the serif font Meridien and the sans-serif Avenir.





Adrian Frutiger’s quotes are taken from an extensive piece about him on the Linotype website, which can be read in its entirety beginning here.

The Linotype piece is presented in the typeface Frutiger Neue, which I know thanks to a browser tool called WhatFont.  If you are a typeface fan like me, WhatFont is available for free here as a bookmark for your browser.

A New York Times obituary of Frutiger can be found here.

Just My Type, by Simon Garfield, a good general interest book about typeface design, talks about Frutiger, too, especially about his Frutiger and Univers typefaces.

The image of Frutiger type is by Dyfsunctional at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.), via Wikimedia Commons.

The Univers type image is by Atanamir via Wikimedia Commons

The Meridien type image is by Fiamon via Wikimedia Commons.

The Avenir type image is by Fiamon via Wikiwand.

One Minute Ink Review: Pelikan Brilliant Black


Pelikan Brilliant Black. A standard black ink that is a good bet if you have a wet writing pen or have to use poor quality paper. It has the nice quality of writing with a narrow line, which keeps your fine lines fine.  It’s dependable, reasonably priced and has very decent water resistance. But it’s also a dry ink, so with a dry pen it can look gray.

An everyday ink?  Absolutely, especially with wet pens or challenging paper.

Someone Great

Do you like LCD Soundsystem?  Me too!  I stole their song title.

Today is the 15th birthday of my youngest daughter, the dancer.  For her, here is something beautiful from the Russian dancer Sergei Polunin.

Pen of the Day: Montblanc Writers Edition F. Scott Fitzgerald


Montblanc Writers Edition F. Scott Fitzgerald with fine nib.  I do own pens with bling.  This one, for instance.  I occasionally think about selling it, to pay for some other pens I’ve bought.  But then I use it, and immediately think, no,  I love this pen.

The Fitzgerald is filled with a Montblanc limited edition ink from a few years ago, Montblanc Albert Einstein ink. This is a gray that is so dark it can almost look black.  I love this ink, too. Using it actually rekindled my interest in black inks.


The pen is more glamorous.  Its black, white and silver color scheme, its materials and its details pay homage to Art Deco style and to Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age.  It would look at home on the set of an Astaire and Rogers film.  And it’s a wonderful writer: the Fitzgerald is lightweight and comfortable, and mine has a superb, albeit wide, fine nib.


I really love it, though, because it is the F. Scott Fitzgerald pen. Fitzgerald is a favorite of mine. Sadly, he died relatively young, with his career in shambles and his body of work uneven.  In his twenties, he had written a great American novel.  In his forties he died in reduced circumstances, separated from his wife and estranged from many of his former friends, thinking himself a failure.

On his and Zelda’s tombstone is engraved his famous final sentence from The Great Gatsby:  “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”  But in the novel, immediately before those words came these, of hope:  “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us.  It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning —”

The dreamer’s eternal hope always was the other side of Fitzgerald’s vision. I think that’s the quality that endears him to us still, despite knowing that no matter how fast he himself ran, his talent could not outrun his demons.

Off to the Nibmeister


I have a few fountain pens that have some issues I haven’t been able to, or haven’t had time to, fix myself. A pen with a great nib is a joy. But pen with a nib that pops out of alignment or writes poorly is a source of frustration and disappointment.

I’ve been so busy dealing with fire drills on the home front, or work, or things that had to be done for family members, that my misfit pens have sat on a shelf waiting for help for months. It’s especially silly because I have a friend, Dan Smith, who does excellent work on pens and nibs as the Nibsmith. I’ve been promising, or threatening, to send these to Dan since May.

This morning I decided to put all that other stuff aside for a bit and send off my pens. It’s Monday — a good day to make a fresh start. Sure, I still need to do three thousand other things today. But sometimes you need to put aside the demands of everyday life, and do something long-term, and for yourself.

And so, my pens are off to the nibmeister.


Monday Morning Quarterback — Pens and Inks Version


American football kicked off its season this week, just in time to inspire this post. Since the NFL has traditionally played its games on Sunday, we call post-game insights and criticisms “Monday morning quarterbacking.” After all, hindsight is always 20/20. But that can be helpful, too. So maybe it will be useful to look back at my pens and inks last week with a little hindsight.

1. Luckiest guess. Putting Diamine’s Shimmertastic Brandy Dazzle into a Pelikan Ibis with broad nib. The vintage Pelikan has a lot of ink flow, and the nib has a bit of flex, and both those characteristics really showed what Brandy Dazzle could do.

2. Luckiest break. I am very lucky to have a great friend who sent me six Shimmertastic ink samples to play with. They were all such fun.

3. Undeserved criticism award. Diamine took a lot of internet heat for putting the name “Shimmertastic” on its forthcoming ink line. And, yes, “Shimmer” would have been fine. But the truth is, after you use the word “Shimmertastic” a few times, you kind of forget that it sounds silly and just go with it. Heck, the inks do shimmer. And they are sort of fantastic. The power of suggestion worked for me here.

4. Deserved criticism award. Pelikan took a lot of internet heat for its M600 Pink Pelikan box design. And maybe Pelikan should have listened. Though it turns out I liked untying the bow, I think just a bow would have been quite enough to set the box apart. The corset lace design felt a little “ick” to me. And even if you like it, it does seem out-of-step with what is actually a fairly classy and professional pen.

5. Unluckiest break. In 2005, the Chicago Bears had the fourth pick in the NFL draft, which they wasted on a running back whose ignominious Bears career would be over by 2008. Among the players the Bears passed over was Aaron Rodgers, the quarterback of my beloved University of California Golden Bears. Worse, Rodgers was drafted by none other than the Green Bay Packers, arch-rivals of the Bears. Rodgers has gone on to become probably the best quarterback in football, a fact that he demonstrates to Chicago fans twice a year by stomping on our Bears. As he did once again yesterday. Sigh.